Archive for the ‘sleep cycle’ Tag

Working Your What, Part 3: Sleep and Waking

[Updated 1 August 2020]

It’s Lunasa, or Lughnasadh, the Assembly of Lugh, god of many skills, a harvest festival, and also a time of funeral games, as Lugh mourns and commemorates his foster-mother Tailtiu. Even as the southern hemisphere eases through winter, into not-quite-yet spring, the north gazes into the darkening half of the year, the light of summer still burning brightly. As with each of the great eight festivals, Lunasa includes its own shape and interval of balance and opportunity for reflection.

The Denton Texas CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) will hold an online Lunasa ritual. Copying/pasting from John Beckett’s blog:

The complete ritual will be presented as a YouTube Premiere this Saturday, August 1, at 8:00 PM Central Time. That’s 7:00 PM on the West Coast, 9:00 PM on the East Coast, and 2:00 AM on Sunday in Britain, Ireland, and Portugal.

Here’s the link:

The Youtube link will remain up in case you’d like to view it later.

Its paired festival is Imbolc, and meditation on the linkages between them can bring useful insight.

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One of the more astonishing behaviors that so many living things do, including humans, is to sleep and wake again. (Why not write your own journal entry to explore connections between waking and sleep, birth and death.) If sleep and waking for yourself seems utterly commonplace and not worth thinking about, try watching your child, or partner, or dog or cat or bird or other pet, transition through these states of consciousness. If the cat or child falls asleep in your arms, you may find yourself consenting to cramp and stiffness just to avoid moving and waking them. Something of the magic has rubbed off on you, in spite of everything.


You may begin to sense what a strange or even uncanny thing this shift of consciousness really is. We do it every day all our lives and usually think nothing of it. It comes with the operating system we’re running. It’s part of our software, hardware, wetware and spiritware. Only when the sleep mechanism doesn’t work do we often start to notice.

Anyone curious about what sort of thing a self is might well wonder what’s going on. Judging simply on the basis of sleep — where does the “I” go, and how does it “come back” again? — a self starts to seem far more malleable, changeable, supple and fluid than we’ve been led to believe. And that, as many of us can attest, may feel both terrifying and liberating, as brushes with reality often do.

We know from daily experience that sleep performs a number of resets. It can deliver a changed perspective on a problem or challenge, and also toss us into a landscape where the laws of earth-physics no longer apply, or run in the opposite direction and convince us we already are awake, until we actually do wake up, much to our surprise.

From such a triad of qualities — insight, alternative reality, convincing similarity to waking — many have deduced profound truths about human consciousness and cosmic order. But we don’t even need to extrapolate quite so far to work with those three as they come. Sleep on it, we say. We might well say, let go of it until it assumes a new form, rather than clutching it so tightly it can’t change. And often the thing I’m clutching most tightly is my sense of self, refusing to let it “slip into something more comfortable”.


Rather than being tougher than my problems, battering them into submission through my superior will and skill, I can learn to be more flexible with them, working with my charm and finesse. But how can I? A song, a poem, a charm, a prayer, a supple turn and bend, rather a full-on frontal assault. Problem-solving, also known as living, starts to look like a form of martial art, a study of forms, flow and approaches. It can become a practice toward mastery, an affirmation of the value of being alive. It can even, on occasion — though it can be heresy to say it — be an experience of joy. And one of a further set of contemplation-questions may take the stage: What else can I wake up from? Or what can’t I wake from, or fall asleep to? Do I even know?

The verisimilitude to waking experience of some dreams can easily lead us to conclude that waking experience itself is similar in kind — one among a number of options, rather than the only “real” or final one.  Maybe one from which we can awaken further, one step of a larger stairway. From there it’s often only a turn or two to playing intentionally with awareness and consciousness, testing how solid the boundaries are between states of consciousness, and where the hinge-points and doorways might lie. And among the tools to activate those kinds of testing and play, ritual pattern-making, meditation, visualization and other means can prove highly effective, and safer than some pharmaceutical options pushed on us by both licensed and unlicensed pushers.

Mat Auryn’s Psychic Witch (Llewellyn, 2020) offers an excellent and fresh set of exercises for exploring adjacent and transformed states of consciousness. With a text centered on a series of 93 exercises, any summary I attempt will fail to do it justice, but in Auryn’s hands this book is the next best thing to taking a workshop with the author, in these pandemic times. John Beckett posts a useful review here.

If he has an over-arching theme, Auryn captures it early on:

Whatever you touch will touch you back. The simplest way that I can try to explain it is that when you spend time touching the core of the earth, soaking in the stars, communing with the moon, aligning with the elements, working with the gods and spirits, it changes a person (4).

How we respond to such contact says much about what our life experiences will be and where they will take us. Such contact is already taking place. We’ve already touched and been touched by a lot in the years we’ve been alive. It’s not a matter of if but of when, how, how much and to what effect, and sorting out what those mean for us, if we’re inclined to take that on as a project, one of the most worthwhile ones we can, whether as challenge or opportunity, as art or science or faith or some giddy mix of all three.

I’ll close with a personal observation from my own idiosyncratic practice:

Every day, like everyone else, I experience many differing states of consciousness, moving from deep sleep to REM sleep to dream to waking, to daydream, to focused awareness and back again. We make these transitions naturally and usually effortlessly — so effortlessly we usually don’t even notice or comment on them. But they serve different purposes: what we can’t do in one state, we can often do easily in another. The flying dream isn’t the focus on making a hole in one, nor is it the light trance of daydream, nor the careful math calculation. And further, what we ordinarily do quite mechanically and often without awareness, we can learn to do consciously.

May you sleep and wake again.

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Listening to Inwardness–4

[Part One | Part TwoPart Three | Part Four]

IMG_3378When I began this series of posts on the 21st of November, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that the practice it recounts would run for seven days, ending today, the 27th. But one of the benefits of my year-long work with Wayne London, MD*, in his exploration of the spiritual potential of the labyrinth, has been a deepening understanding of symbolism and ritual.

Often we tend to think of symbols as arbitrary, confusing them with signs like +, %, !, etc. But symbols run deeper, and often cross cultures (though they may change in some of their associations). Even more confusing are objective things, like the sun, that can also function as symbols. So while we can begin to list what the sun “means” — light, growth, warmth, illumination, a god, Jesus, the center of a solar system, and so on, that doesn’t exhaust its symbolic power. Experience the sun vividly, like at sunrise or sunset, watch it pierce the clouds and clear the sky, see it in a dream, and you begin to know its symbolic power in other ways.

The opposite tendency, of course, is to assume that a symbol, because it lies deeper than a sign, and often operates at more subtle levels, is therefore universally “true” or always appropriate, apt or fitting. Encounter the imagery and symbolism of a radically different culture, though, and you can see how symbols depend on lived experience. Water for a desert people can mean something much different from what it does for an ocean-side tribe whose lives revolve around fish and boats, storms and tides. Rain as a symbol in a song or a dream carries a different power.

One of the ways that Dr. London has worked with the seven-path labyrinth is to link it to the Hindu system of chakras (and also to the human sleep cycle). In this case, the number seven has a particular symbolic power, as it does in both Christianity and Druidry, of course, as well as in numerous other cultures — obviously including Hindu culture.

schneiderIn part, this symbolism of seven comes from a quartering of the moon’s cycle of 28 days, so that like many cross-cultural symbols, it augments its force by linkages to an objective reality. The largely planet-wide acceptance of a seven-day week points to a kind of symbolic “fit” with human experience.

Did the original builders of labyrinths perceive something of this symbolic fit or aptness? Is that why the seven-path labyrinth is by far the most common form of this pattern on the planet? (Investigate the 11-path Chartres labyrinth!) Who knows! But what remains to us is a set of associations that organize themselves around seven in a multitude of ways. Examine the evidence in such popularizations as Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: The Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art and Science (Harper Collins, 2014), and you begin to see how number symbolism is a particularly deep-lying symbolic sequence in our human experience and perceptions of the physical (and non-physical) world. Fear not, if you’re not mathematically inclined — Schneider’s book relies on images and diagrams, art and hands-on exercises, to bring home his several points.

Like any map, a symbol cannot include everything that it represents. It’s a selection, a set of choices and decisions about priorities. No map can “contain the universe”, nor can any symbol recall to consciousness the entirety of what it symbolizes. This is less a “limitation” of the symbol than it is a given parameter of consciousness in a world of space and time. To insist it be otherwise — to demand that one truth represent the cosmos — is like insisting that the ocean wash over everything. While that might sound at first like an ideal, in practical terms it means we all would drown.

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In his work, Dr. London therefore begins where the seven-path labyrinth begins, at path 3. If we follow the path sequence, as the labyrinth itself suggests — 3-2-1-4-7-6-5 (see previous post for the path numbering) — we find that the extremes of 2-1 and 7-6 are always bounded by returns to the center. (We reach the center of the labyrinth not by path 7 which is “the closest”, but by path 5). To make this clearer, Dr. London notes, we can rewrite the labyrinth path sequence like this: 3-(2-1)-4-(7-6)-5. Our departure, like our arrival, emerges at or near a center: 3, 4, or 5. This fits at least with my sense of a return to the world of lived experience.

Rather than a linear journey ascending the chakras to the full flowering of realization at the 7th chakra as an endpoint, then, Dr. London’s work with the labyrinth suggests a different and more spiraling journey.

Walking the labyrinth, then, is a ritual vision quest (is there any other kind?), following a sequence we cannot miss. This isn’t a maze, but a labyrinth, with a pathway in, and also out. We begin with enough consciousness to enter at path 3 — the manipura chakra, the solar plexus, the gut instinct, the self-assertion to choose to “perform the ritual” — to begin a quest, though we may not know where it will take us. What hero or heroine does, when they set out? Setting out on path 3, as Dr. London observes, “we leave the world of time and space”.

Without that choice, we do not walk with enough awareness to benefit directly from the quest. We are merely swept along by circumstance. (Here, Dr. London’s work on the connection of the sleep cycle to the labyrinth enters the picture in a fascinating way — if we’re not conscious enough to do spiritual work with intention, the sleep cycle nevertheless reconnects us to the cosmos and divinity at a minimal “survival-maintenance level” each night. We are never wholly abandoned to the limitations of life lived in time and space. In theistic terms, the presence of God always reaches out to us. In non-theistic terms, our connection to the cosmos endures — nothing can sever it. “Sleep on it” remains good advice. Again, “we leave the world of time and space” as we enter the realm of sleep).

If we’ve gotten this far — again, we’re starting at the middle, as with Dante’s opening lines to the Inferno, “in the middle of the journey of our life” — we’ve already been walking these paths, knowing they are not entire ends in themselves, but important elements along the way. We simply cannot walk a whole path without them.

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As a symbol, and as a map of the spiritual quest, I find Dr. London’s work useful in my own life, as a spiritual yardstick along the way. We’re still editing a forthcoming publication enlarging substantially on these ideas, tentatively titled “Spiritual and Healing Aspects of the Classic Seven-Path Labyrinth”. His work on what he calls the Grid at the second link below is also ongoing.

Image: Chartres Labyrinth

Link to 2015 iBrattleboro article on Wayne London, MD. Additional links may have expired in the interim.

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